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A photo of John Hallett's prized Corvette, one of the possessions he did not give up as he gambled away his life savings. (GEOFF ROBINS/Geoff Robins for The Globe and Mail)
A photo of John Hallett's prized Corvette, one of the possessions he did not give up as he gambled away his life savings. (GEOFF ROBINS/Geoff Robins for The Globe and Mail)

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A family man's tragic transformation Add to ...

John Hallett hung himself on Sept. 3, 2005, at the age of 76. His suicide was not one impulsive act; it was the culmination of years of desperation as his gambling spun out of control.

"He said, 'It made me happy. I didn't care if I won, I would just send in those nickels and quarters, it would keep me happy,' " his only child, Karlene Baert, said in an interview. "It was a drug to him."

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The Baert family applied for his win-loss statement as part of a Globe and Mail investigation. It shows Mr. Hallett lost $134,457 from 1998 to 2005 at what was then called Casino Windsor, owned by the Ontario government and managed by Windsor Casino Ltd.

The figures include money he gambled out of pocket, plus cash he received redeeming credits earned on the casino's total rewards card or through a special promotion.



This is not my father. Karlene Baert


But Ms. Baert, 46, believes the player's card data represents a fraction of her father's losses. Based on financial statements - cashed-in RRSPs and life-insurance policies, money withdrawn from his savings account, and the re-mortgaging of his home - she calculates his gambling losses at $381,271.

Ms. Baert and her husband, Rick, cannot understand why no one red-flagged his gambling problem.

"I blame the casino," she said. "… There should have been some mechanism to say this man comes every night and he sits there and sits there and sits there. Obviously, people are noticing this man was here all the time."

John Hallett moved from Newfoundland to Windsor, where he soon obtained what was then considered a job for life: working the line at Chrysler Canada Inc.

His wife, Phyllis, a nurse, followed him and, in 1965, they purchased a modest, single-storey grey brick house in LaSalle, south of Windsor. By then, their daughter was two years old. The couple lived frugally, having enough money for a down payment on her first home when she got married in 1986.

The Halletts' plan in retirement was to travel, but they could never agree on where. She favoured returning to Newfoundland to visit relatives; he wanted to take a trip out west. Ms. Hallett, meanwhile, had a heart attack, then a stroke. She died in 1997, at age 64, plunging Mr. Hallett into a deep depression.

In August, 1998, he, Karlene, Rick and their children piled into a motorhome and drove to Hermitage, Nfld., to bury her ashes. "I may not have anything left to pass on to you kids," Mr. Baert recalled Mr. Hallett saying on that trip. Added Mr. Baert: "He was alluding to the gambling, which we didn't have any idea of."

A man who once had a great interest in airplanes, playing with his grandchildren, reading books and newspapers, now seemed only to want to gamble. He made excuses not to see his family. He drove a car without tags or insurance.

"This is not my father, this changed him radically," Ms. Baert said. "… I knew a very astute, very well-read individual who kept up on all the news, who consistently made repairs to his home, and he turned into a man who did none of that and had no care but to go down to the casino."

Despite his monthly pension income and a house fully paid, Mr. Hallett drained his savings and retirement funds and re-mortgaged his home to bankroll his gambling. In March, 2005, he wrote a letter to the bank, seeking yet another re-mortgaging.

"At the time of my wife's death, I was completely debt free and had a nice nest egg," he wrote. "Her death hit me hard and I felt I had nothing to live for. Soon as the lonelyness [sic]got to me, I started to visit the casino. I was soon addicted and could not break the habit."

He tried repeatedly to take his own life. In the winter of 2005, he tried to hang himself from a ceiling fan; it couldn't hold his weight, and he fell. In another attempt, he went into the garage and turned the ignition on and felt a wonderful release, he told his daughter later, until the car backfired and sputtered. Another time, he stared at a razor in the bath.

Ms. Baert took her father to the casino to sign a self-exclusion form, banning himself from the premises. She recalls walking down a lonely long hall of Casino Windsor, where her father's picture was taken against a block wall.

"I told [the man taking the photo]that the casino was responsible for ruining the life of the man whose picture he was taking," Ms. Baert said. "He did not seem to be interested in the least."

Allison Sparkes, director of communications for the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, said any death linked to addiction is a tragedy. But "to be clear," she added, "OLG does not want problem gamblers in its facilities. OLG is continuously working to improve the reach of our responsible-gaming programs - through research, partnerships with experts and new technologies."

On Sept. 3, 2005, Ms. Baert stopped by her father's house with a hamper of laundry. She called out but couldn't find him - then saw a ladder.

"I pulled down the ladder in the ceiling," she said. "I thought maybe he was getting something out there but I climbed up. And there he was. I couldn't get him down from the rafters. I just went crazy."

Looking back, the Baerts stress that someone at the casino should have stepped in before it was too late. Mr. Hallett must have been known to casino employees: One laid-off worker attended his funeral.

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